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National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:52 am

WD brings up some great points concerning the ambiguity of what is permitted in Wilderness depending how one defines certain types of development and what is necessary to protect wilderness values and for public safety. When Roaring River ranger I "developed" or allowed a few established campsites to remain where I could control or limit impacts of stock use. My premise was to separate stock parties as much as possible from backpackers and to have such camps where stock could not do much damage. This worked really well 99% of the time but occasionally backpackers would choose to use these camps (their absolute right, but just goes to show all backpackers do not want relatively pristine sites all the time) and they would not be available to stock parties. This technique was not officially appoved by the NPS but my supervisor for my first 5 years supported this. When my supervisors changed I did not get that support and I lasted only 2 more years.

While supporting the principle of allowing stock use I feel strongly that it should be carefully controlled.The discussion here seems to focus on private and comercial stock use but in Yosemite and SEKI a large proportion of stock use is by the NPS and that needs to be scrutinized just as carefully as other uses.

Mike
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:55 pm

...the agency’s primary responsibility is to protect the wilderness, not cede to commercial needs.
This is an excerpt from page 9 of the Courts Decision of HSHA v. US Dept of Int. dated 1/24/12

These are important words to be considered and contemplated. The NPS has the responsibility to protect Wilderness areas in its jurisdiction. It is not in the best interest of "protecting Wilderness" to yield to the needs of a business for profit (commercial) opportunity for anyone.

I personally have nothing against packers or stock animals. I board a horse at my home, and love him as though my own pet. This is about the Wilderness Act...the law. The NPS must obey the law , as much as you must obey the rules and regulations imposed by them. :-({|=
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:25 pm

It is not that black and white. "protect the wilderness" is a typically broad legal term. I am not aware of any comprehensive laundry list of specific practices that either "protect the wilderness" or do not. Laws are usually written with some wiggle room. It is called compromise. That is the way laws get written because there are many sides of any issue. I think we can agree on intent in "protect the wilderness" but there are a diverse set of views of exactly what that constitutes. Everyone wants to "protect the wilderness". We just cannot agree on what that means. I doubt the packers feel they are NOT protecting the wilderness. I doubt the NP managers felt that they were not "protecting the wilderness". They are there, day in and day out, trying their best to balance "use" and "protection" and with a lot of pressure from ALL sides.

What I meant by allowing a packer to make a living is to write the regulations so that the technicalities are not arbitrary stumbling blocks, for example, if you were to set aside all permits in September for backpackers only (the packers prime season for hunting parties). If you reduce use, then do it so as not to spread use so thin that any one packer cannot make it, but rather, limit the number of licences. Politically, you DO have to take locals being able to make a living into consideration, because if you do not, there WILL be political reprocusions and backlash, which will destroy a lot of progress already made. The talk of "privitization" is already rearing its ugly head. Do not fan the flames! The Wilderness Act can be undone with enough opposition. We want to win converts, not alienate people.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby dave54 » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:45 pm

National Park Service Organic Act:
…which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations… (italics mine). Ordering the NPS to protect wilderness by restricting access could be argued as cherry picking which laws to obey and which to ignore – something courts have done repeatedly.

Already well discussed in other threads, both the FS and the NPS, and to a lesser degree BLM, have mutually exclusive and contradictory mandates. Well meaning but ill-conceived environmental laws, court rulings, and ever-changing political whims from Washington have left the agencies in a no-win situation.

I am reminded of an open letter written 20(?) years ago by the newly retired Timber Management Director of Forest Service Region 5, (which is basically California). This letter, which was also published in the San Francisco Chronicle in the Op-Ed pages, started out boldly “Over the past 8 years I went to work every day wondering which federal law I was going to break” and went on to give examples of management decisions where every possible option violated one or more laws. Even deferring a decision, seeking more analysis or guidance from courts or Washington, was in many cases a violation of law as there are often legal time frames.

I have no envy for line officers in the land agencies. As one now retired Forest Supervisor once quipped " I knew I made a good decision when all sides were equally mad at me." As time goes by I am increasingly convinced my early retirement from the FS was a good decision. Life is too short for the stress and headaches.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby atreehugger » Sat Feb 18, 2012 3:37 pm

I now realize this is a controversial issue, with a varying range of viewpoints. I never thought it would be on this forum....I was wrong. I apoligize if I have ruffled any feathers...it was not my wish. My desire was to inform and educate. Perhaps it can better be explained through a format more suitable for some on this forum. Please check out the following link for perhaps a clearer understanding of the issue:

http://www.highsierrahikers.org/wandw_quota.html
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:17 pm

atreehugger

I too have issues with number of stock allowed in one party. However the number 49 is a gross exageration in SEKI unless things have changed significantly recently. And think about the consequences of commercial packstations being included in the quota--even fewer permits available for backpackers. At any rate the front page cartoon you sent us to certainly does nothing to add to a rational discussion of what is not a simple issue.

Also this is exactly the place for you to bring forward your thoughts. Just because some of us do not see eye to eye with you does not mean you shouldn't bring up such topics. If you expect HST is a place where people should all think the same then I think one of us has the wrong idea of what HST is about.

The key element to me is that we all enjoy the Sierra and we hope that it will be available to enjoy for many generations to come. But we do not have identical vision of what the Sierra is or what we do there. I love that about HST.

Cheers

Mike
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby gdurkee » Sun Feb 19, 2012 11:46 am

By the way, George, what is the percentage of stock nights in the backcountry by user type, government, private, and commercial? In my experience over grazing was always the result of government stock use that the backcountry ranger had no control over.


Hmmm.I haven't checked in here in a while. I'll try to catch up.

Atreehugger -- no, it's a very good discussion you started. The whole concept of what Wilderness is, what it's for, what parks are for etc. is a constantly moving target and always needs discussion. Mike & I, at least, are aging (though very gracefully so!) baby boomers. So discussions on Wilderness, the environmental movement etc. that occurred in the 60s and 70s shaped our attitudes. One of the things I always forget is that my attitudes and philosophy -- long established by both profession and being a child of the 60's -- are not the same experience that other users today have. There's a longer and even more acrimonious discussion going on another board that veered off into whether bikes should be allowed on wilderness trails. A (presumably) younger and very vocal group doesn't see the conflict and is pretty defiant about the law.

But anyway, to Mike's question above. I think it's around 50/50 between Admin stock use (horses & mules used by NPS) vs. commercial. Private generates some very small numbers but in areas I've worked, it's almost negligible. Admin use has to stick to the same grazing limits and regulations as anyone so it's not really one or the other that's responsible for relative impacts -- it's the total. And that's kind of the point. There are only a few meadows with established number of grazing nights -- if those are exceeded, then grazing is stopped. But it's a game of checkers because that just sends the stock users to another meadow (or, I guess, whack-a-mole?). So without an overall reduction of stock use nights or limits for basins, the problem of stock impacts isn't really addressed by closing any specific meadow. The use just moves. The totals aren't reduced.

HSHA lawsuit only dealt with how commercial permits were addressed by the GMP because that was the only point of law immediately vulnerable (if I understand the whole thing -- not a sure thing...). No question Admin use is a huge impact. Theoretically the use of Administrative stock in the backcountry/Wilderness is managed under the Minimum Tool concept. That is (well, you know this MIke, but I'll throw it out there for everyone), whatever method/tool being used to accomplish a task in Wilderness should have the least environmental impact. So to transport equipment and crews into the backcountry you've got foot, stock, helicopter or, of course, not doing it.

Helicopter, incidentally, is specifically listed as one of the minimum tools that can be considered.

Also, the earlier point raised on pack stations being allowed to exceed daily totals. That is, a trailhead is limited to, say, 30 people per day. For a long time, pack stations could exceed that total. If the trailhead was full, they could just go over it. There were scout groups who were well aware of this and would contract to have their stuff hauled up by a packer. That way they didn't have to worry about having their permit denied because the day's quota was full.

I don't know if that's still the case though. I think it is but am not sure. I vaguely heard that, for USFS anyway, they look at it as "borrowing" from future days where the quota won't be filled. I definitely need to check into that. It's always been a glaring exception to the very reason for a daily maximum on the trail -- to keep numbers low and so preserve a feeling of wilderness as well as spread out actual physical impacts.

But even then, there is no limit on how many stock trips can go from a trailhead per day. The only limitation on stock is that they can't have more than 20 head per trip. There's a maximum of 15 people per trip for everyone -- scouts, church groups, whatever. The convoluted reasoning once explained to me is that it would take 20 animals to carry the gear and people of the maximum group size of 15 people. So clearly the impacts that determine setting a carrying capacity for a trailhead and a person group size of 15 people are not the same that set an unlimited number of stock trips and maximum of 20 head per group.

Eeeeek. You might have to read that a few times. A little confusing on so many levels... .

Finally, I think what's missing in much of the court decision and even to a certain extent the discussion here, is to what extent visitors have a right to expect seeing an absolutely pristine meadow when they're traveling in WIlderness? The unfortunate reality is that there are few meadows along the length of the John Muir Trail that a user (whether a stock user or backpacker) can camp at and see a meadow where grazing is not allowed and where the grasses and beldings and ducks etc. are allowed to go through their life cycle without the possible impacts of horses eating their habitat. As Randy Morgenson once put it:

All the meadows in Evolution Valley were grazed this summer, and they all looked it. Yet Franklin Meadow apparently was not, and in October it was a place of knee high grasses, ripe and open panicles drifting on the moving air, luminous-bronze in the backlight. It was a very different place and a very different emotional experience of a mountain meadow, and entirely consistent with what one might rightly expect of a national park backcountry. It was a garden. I sometimes wonder whether range management concepts are any more applicable to our business than timber management concepts. The difference between a grazed meadow and a logged forest may only be one of scale.
--Randy Morgenson, 1989 McClure Meadow end of season report


"..luminous-bronze in the backlight." There's a reason Randy was such a great ranger... .

George
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby oldranger » Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:47 pm

George,

Thanks for going into this in more detail. My point in asking about stock nights by NPS is that in my experience a large amount of the overnight use was not out of necessity but convenience. For example in Roaring River in the 80's the pack string supporting the trail crew consisted of, as I remember, 6 mules and two horses. However when the packer went out to resupply he would take a single horse and usually just 3 mules. The remainder of the string would be left to munch on meadows for the 4 days or so the packer was out and were typically unused (sometimes a single mule and the remaining horse would be use to move some tools but not often.)

Similarly as I recall though stock were used to relocate the trail crew in the Kern drainage most of the resupplies were done by Helicopter so than for the most part the stock was unused but nonetheless grazing. My point is that it was never clear to me that government stock use (in terms of the number of stock use nights) ever met the concept of minimum use needed.

I also agree that linking the number of stock to maximum group size is bizarre. My personal feeling is that 12 head is max and that groups just need to adjust. Same as groups who want to backpack off trail have limits in some places that do not apply to trail use. An exception could be acceptable for one day spot trips where stock do not remain in the backcountry over night

Finally I absolutely agree with Randy's assessment about the asthetics of ungrazed meadows. When I first read his quote I was surprised as I had been suggesting, at the same time (late 80's), that one meadow in Cloud Canyon and one meadow in Deadman should be left ungrazed each year (on a rotating basis) so that people could see what ungrazed meadows look like. There are lots of ungrazed or seldom grazed meadows in the Roaring River drainage but most are quite a bit off the beaten track. And while Randy and I agree about the esthetics of an ungrazed meadow I did encounter some people who liked their meadows as cropped as a golf course. So everyone in the backcountry does not share the same esthetics.

Mike
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby quentinc » Sun Feb 19, 2012 2:11 pm

gdurkee wrote:
There's a longer and even more acrimonious discussion going on another board that veered off into whether bikes should be allowed on wilderness trails. A (presumably) younger and very vocal group doesn't see the conflict and is pretty defiant about the law.


Among the excellent points in George's post, this particularly got my attention. In thinking about it, if stock animals are permitted, why not bikes? Believe me, I'm not advocating this -- I already spend enough time in the Santa Monica mountains dodging kamikazes on narrow trails, including ones riding at night without lights. So I guess the rationale is safety? I've encountered (illegal) cyclists on the PCT in So Cal from time to time. They've always been considerate riders, and it's never bothered me. (The dirt bikes are another story). Of course, there is a hardly a blind turn or sharp switchback on the So Cal PCT, since they had a mandate to make it 500+ miles long and therefore laid it out as circuitously as physically as possible.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby gdurkee » Sun Feb 19, 2012 6:41 pm

My point in asking about stock nights by NPS is that in my experience a large amount of the overnight use was not out of necessity but convenience.


Excellent point and one I totally forgot. Yes. As you may appreciate, I have to be a teensy bit careful here. But I have heard -- through a long and circuitous route of otherwise reliable sources; certainly none involved directly in my work for the extremely fine government organization I work for! -- that Administrate/NPS stock use is perhaps (perhaps!! but who could say for sure?!?!) a bit higher than it needs to be. One could observe that when stock are in the backcountry, they are eating for free and not eating store-bought hay. One could also observe that when stock are in the backcountry, they also don't need the extra long trips in and out requiring extra work by packers and then a truck to meet them at the trailhead. Now, I've heard that Kings trail crews regularly pack in and out, minimizing their time in the backcountry and, interestingly, minimizing their helicopter time. Other crews, in other nearby places, do exactly as you describe: keep large number of animals who, to a neutral observer, don't seem to be doing much work in supporting wilderness values such as helping maintain trails. AND, strangely, these same crews get a weekly helicopter food & gear resupply. Go figure... .

Just sayin'. Got no particular government-gained knowledge on this particular question. Ju's what I hear on the trail and other public forums... .

Quintic: I have to say that the whole thing of bikes in wilderness is totally foreign to me as an acceptable use, yet the people who think they should be allowed make strong arguments of law in favor. To me and, more importantly, as a matter of law, they're not allowed. They're a mechanical transport. The Wilderness Act would seem to ban them and, in fact, that's how the Act has been interpreted for 40 years. For National Parks, it's not even dependent on the Wilderness Act, it's a matter of specific law -- no wheeled vehicles, whether motorized or not.

The good news for me and, I like to think, Sierra hikers, is that there have been very, very few mountain bikers even attempting Sierra park trails. They're just too rugged. The couple of times I've come across bikers they've been walking their bikes (and got citations for their efforts). But places like Pt. Reyes, Muir Woods and, as you say, southern California, I guess it's a major problem. An advantage of poorly graded and rocky trails... .

Oh. Short story: my supervisor caught some bikers a few years ago. Gave them a citation and confiscated their bike seats -- sort of guaranteed they couldn't ride them out after she left. She had them pick up the seats at the Ranger Station.

g.
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby LMBSGV » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:57 pm

Old Ranger and George, an enlightening exchange.

In terms of Point Reyes, the bike groups seems to have accepted the “mechanical transport” part of the Wilderness Act and stopped trying to get the backcountry trails opened to cyclists. Also, the number of cyclists I’ve encountered on the single track trails has declined quite a bit in the last few years. It used to be a major problem (one damn near ran over my son when he was 5 in 1989-the cyclist was lucky it was a downhill slope so he could get away), but now cyclists seem to stick to the fire roads. (Okay, now after writing this, I’ll probably run into one next week.)

Also, I’d like to clarify my earlier post. I misstated my position (one disadvantage of late night posts). I do not believe packers should be required to report their clients to the Park Service. However, WD, I don’t think the analogy of teachers turning in the parents of their students quite works. The clients are the equivalent of the students, not the parents. I do believe that packers should be held responsible for educating their clients. Packers whose clients are cited by rangers should be told about it and if their clients are repeatedly cited, that packer should lose their license. I won’t name names, but there are a couple of outfitters I’ve encountered who behave irresponsibly and even hostile and whose clients seem to behave similarly and break the rules (like building bonfires above the no fires elevation). Most other packers I’ve encountered over the last 35 years are people going about their business, are friendly and courteous, and their clients seem to behave similarly.

As for the government stock, an interesting quandary. I have to say I find helicopter resupply pretty annoying, but there’s something to be said about a few minutes of noise disturbance versus a long line of pack stock traveling in and out.

Finally, that quote of Randy’s is a beautiful piece of writing. From the bits quoted in "The Last Season," he was an eloquent writer. Has anyone thought about collecting his writings and editing them for book?
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Re: National Park Service in Violation of Wilderness Act

Postby balzaccom » Sun Feb 19, 2012 10:15 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Balzaccom- you use Emigrant Wilderness a lot and this IS one wilderness that is more used by horses than most. It actually is the only place I have hiked in the Sierra where horse use has been very noticable. The east end of Huckleberry Lake certainly is one location that needs some regulation /enforcement!



Yeah--I usually avoid Kennedy Meadows, just because of the incredible amount of manure on the first six miles of that trail...

And I also call the packers at Aspen Meadows when I am planning a trip. They not only share trail conditions with me, they also tell me where they have trips planned. And I go elsewhere!
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